'It's Against All Of Us': Israel-Hamas Violence, As Seen From The Ground

May 12, 2021
Originally published on May 13, 2021 4:40 am

Updated May 12, 2021 at 8:47 PM ET

LOD, Israel — Intense exchanges of rocket fire and airstrikes have turned life upside down for people in Gaza and Israel, and the conflict has no end in sight. In many instances, the violence has killed indiscriminately.

In Gaza, at least 56 Palestinians have died, Palestinian health authorities say — a figure that includes militants but also civilians and 14 children — and more than 300 have been wounded. In Israel, local authorities say at least six people have been killed, including a soldier, a teenager and a grandmother.

As of Wednesday morning, militants in Gaza had fired more than 1,050 rockets at Israel in the previous 38 hours, Israel's military said. The Foreign Ministry notes that around 200 of those rockets fell inside Gaza itself.

In the early morning, a father and his teenage daughter, Khalil and Nadin Awad, who were Palestinian citizens of Israel, were killed when a rocket struck outside their home near Lod, just south of Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport.

Hours after the attack, the air outside their home smelled of the charred remains of their car, which had caught fire. A friend of the family, Buthaina Dabit, said that 16-year-old Nadin wanted to be a doctor. The violence, she added, is affecting everyone.

"It's against all of us, this situation, because violence or war is against all humanity, not just Arabs or Jews," Dabit said. "It's against nature."

Lod, a city where Jews, Muslims and Christians normally manage to live peacefully side by side, is now caught up in the turmoil that started with intense disputes between Israelis and Palestinians stemming from tensions in Jerusalem. There has been street violence, and houses of worship have been set on fire. In an extraordinary move, Israel has sent paramilitary troops from the occupied West Bank to the area.

At night, life is disrupted by air raid sirens. Tania Isaev, a Jewish woman who works as a supermarket cashier, says she was up all night with her young kids, who were frightened by the blaring alarms. Seeking shelter, they ran into the stairwell of their apartment building — where they met their neighbors, who are Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel.

"I hugged my neighbor's kids, and my neighbor hugged my kids," she said.

A few miles to the west, in Rishon LeZion, 63-year-old Israeli grandmother Leah Yom-Tov was killed Tuesday when a rocket hit her home. To the south, a foreign worker from India, Soumya Santhosh, was also killed when a rocket hit the town of Ashkelon. That attack reportedly hit while Santhosh was on a video call with her husband and son in India.

The tragic deaths resulted from rare rocket fire that is reaching deep inside Israel, launched by militants in Gaza. Those attacks, as well as Israel's airstrikes, are prompting international concern that the region could see violence on a scale not seen since the 2014 Israel-Gaza war, when thousands were killed.

"We're escalating towards a full scale war," Tor Wennesland, U.N. special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, said on Twitter.

In Gaza, residents have been up all night, hearing the whoosh of rockets being fired and the booming sounds of Israeli warplanes striking inside Gaza.

In Gaza City on Wednesday, Palestinians inspect a vehicle destroyed by an Israeli airstrike after the bodies of its passengers and driver were retrieved.
Mahmud Hams / AFP via Getty Images

The Israel Defense Forces says it's targeting Hamas leaders and operatives, as well as weapons caches. But Israeli airstrikes have also hit several residential buildings that Israel says are used by both militants and civilians.

Early in the conflict, a strike targeted the home of the Masri family in the Gaza Strip. A militant unrelated to the family was apparently killed there, but five members of the family also died, including children, according to officials in Gaza. Israeli officials say a Hamas rocket, not an airstrike, was responsible for those deaths.

During a visit by journalists to anguished families visiting their wounded relatives in the hospital, one mother told journalists that their boys were being killed on behalf of Jerusalem. Other family members cursed Hamas, saying that the fight for Jerusalem will not bring back their loved ones.

Palestinians perceive Jerusalem as being under attack from Israel, as legal proceedings play out that could result in some Palestinians being evicted from their homes to make way for Jewish settlers in the Old City.

Also in Jerusalem, Israeli police have used force to break up Ramadan gatherings in the city and at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, which is located on what Muslims call Haram al-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary, and Jews call the Temple Mount.

There are no signs that the violence will stop. A senior adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Israel is not close to a Gaza cease-fire yet, as the two sides engage in strikes and counterstrikes. By early Wednesday evening, air raid sirens were again sounding in central Israel, sending residents to shelters.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to Netanyahu on Wednesday. In the call, spokesperson Ned Price said, Blinken "expressed his concerns regarding the barrage of rocket attacks on Israel, his condolences for the lives lost as a result, and the United States' strong support for Israel's right to defend itself."

Blinken "reiterated his call on all parties to deescalate tensions and bring a halt to the violence," Price said, adding that the secretary "emphasized the need for Israelis and Palestinians to be able to live in safety and security, as well as enjoy equal measures of freedom, security, prosperity, and democracy."

Blinken also spoke with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday, Price said. He offered condolences on lives lost and Blinken "condemned the rocket attacks and emphasized the need to de-escalate tensions and bring the current violence to an end."

"The Secretary also expressed his belief that Palestinians and Israelis deserve equal measures of freedom, dignity, security and prosperity," the spokesman said. "The Secretary conveyed his best wishes for Eid and that peace and calm may prevail."

NPR's Bill Chappell reported from Washington, D.C.

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